embracing our potential

A ten-year tourism strategy for the Thompson Okanagan Region

TOTA is now in its seventh year of implementing the 10-year strategy to grow the volume of new and returning visitors to the Thompson Okanagan region. Key programs have been developed to support the implementation of the strategy, to truly embrace our potential. We have increased the recognition of the area as a world-class destination across the globe. We will continue to do so, as well as increase awareness of the unique experiences that await our visitors year round - not just during peak months of the year.

Thompson Okanagan tourism stakeholders gathered at Sparkling Hill Resort for the launch of the tourism strategy in 2012.

Thompson Okanagan tourism stakeholders gathered at Sparkling Hill Resort for the launch of the tourism strategy in 2012.


CEo message

The Thompson Okanagan is one of the leading tourist destinations in the world. In 2010 tourism generated over $1.7 billion to the regional economy. We are attracting 3.5 million visitors per year, and tourism employs approximately 15,000 people in our region.

As impressive as these statistics are, there is a significant underlying concern with the seasonality of the industry, with parts of the region experiencing dramatic peaks in the summer months. Imagine creating an environment that inspires travellers to visit the region every month of the year. The increased economic impact would be dramatic.


The Thompson Okanagan Regional Tourism Strategy is a ten-year ‘road-map’ that will guide us in developing a successful year-round destination and an industry that:

  • Creates jobs;

  • Supports community development; and

  • Adheres to the underlying principles of economic, environmental, social and cultural sustainability.

As the organization that facilitated the planning process, the Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association (TOTA) has worked with government partners and industry stakeholders throughout the region to determine and present on behalf of everyone involved, this landmark tourism document.

Embracing Our Potential is an industry-led strategy that demonstrates how we can create exceptional visitor experiences that will expand our region’s tourism success beyond the peak season. A key underlying objective to this strategy is to encourage partnerships within the industry, and to work in an integrated way to embrace opportunities for growth in a manner that benefits all partners and increases the year-round strength of the Thompson Okanagan as a destination.

I am pleased to put forward this new regional tourism strategy for the Thompson Okanagan. Working together we can build a stronger tourism industry, we can achieve a new vision for our region, and we can create exceptional and world-class experiences for our visitors.

Thank you,

Glenn W. Mandziuk, BA, MEDes, MCIP
Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association

strategy development process

The Thompson Okanagan Regional Tourism Strategy provides a ‘road-map’ that will give direction for the development of tourism within the region over the next ten years, and a framework for stakeholders to work together toward a shared vision and common goals.

This process has been facilitated by Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association. TOTA, as the Regional Destination Management Organization with a corporate mandate to support the ongoing growth and sustainability of the tourism industry throughout the region, has sought to work with national, provincial and regional partners and stakeholders to create the ten-year framework for growth.

The process has involved:

  • The development of a process document

  • Extensive desk research and review of international, national, provincial, regional and local strategies, reports and related documents to ensure a comprehensive understanding of the operating context, the activities of competitive and comparable destinations, and the profiles of the target markets.

  • The re-analysis of existing data from the Travel Survey of Residents of Canada and the International Travel Survey using a Thompson Okanagan filter. This work was undertaken by Research, Planning and Evaluation: Strategic Planning and Policy Division of the Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training.

  • The development of a background situation analysis in the form of a technical report.

  • The establishment of a Steering Committee with 12 participants representing the Canadian Tourism Commission (CTC), Tourism BC, Aboriginal Tourism British Columbia (AtBC), the Minister’s Tourism Council, go2, key sectors of the regional tourism industry, urban and rural tourism within the region, higher education in tourism, economic development, and the TOTA Board.

  • Field research, site visits and one-to -one discussions with tourism operators and related organizations.

  • Primary research and consultation with industry through five sub-regional workshops – 180 stakeholders

    were involved during this phase.

  • A strategy development workshop attended by 30 stakeholders representing regional, provincial and

    national tourism interests, and additional follow-up group and one-to-one discussions. This included a

    workshop that focused on opportunities for the development of Aboriginal cultural tourism.

  • The presentation of the draft summary to 175 attendees at the 2011 Thompson Okanagan Tourism Summit

    as a keynote session. The Summit included an opportunity to review display material on the strategy and

    provided time for feedback and discussion within an ‘open house’ area.

  • An extended period of consultation and feedback following the development of the draft strategy with presentations to the Southern Interior Local Government Association (SILGA) conference, the Local Government Management Association and the Aboriginal Cultural Tourism Conference (a collective audience of 450), and over 30 community presentations covering all 90 communities and hamlets within the region – involving 520 stakeholders.

  • Formal endorsement of the strategy by all leading tourism agencies representing the region’s 90 communities and hamlets and First Nations tourism products, the CTC, Tourism BC, AtBC, go2, and the Okanagan Valley Economic Development Society. The development of partnership agreements with select local tourism organizations.

research + consultation


Research and Consultations with the Industry identified the following issues:

  1. Seasonality of Demand

  2. Competitiveness

  3. Insufficient Differentiation

  4. Latent Demand for Authenticity , Self-Fulfillment and Creativity Within the Region

  5. “Sense of Place”

  6. Marketing

  7. Access

  8. Labour Force Development

  9. Business Development



  • Hot summers; relatively mild winters

  • Few bugs

  • Scenic

  • An area of lifestyle choice

  • Year-round valley playground – diverse product: range of water-based and nature-based product; strong golf and ski product

  • Good access and highway infrastructure – strong and growing air connections

  • Safe and clean / friendly

  • Sense of nostalgia

  • Distinctive rural experiences

  • Local flavours

  • Examples of excellent Aboriginal tourism product – NK’MIP Resort, Quaaout Lodge – room to expand this emerging product

  • Lack of congestion – accessible open space

  • Wide range of festivals – strong artistic and artisan base

  • Boutique and intimate experiences

  • Urban facilities – sport, conference space, arts venues

  • Proximity to urban markets


  • Seasonality

  • Industry remains relatively fragmented although this is changing

  • Communities play a key role in marketing – has resulted in a multiplicity of marketing messages

  • Very limited internal public transport – weak linkages with the airports

  • Real and perceived issues with winter road access

  • Path to purchase once visitors are in the region is difficult – no systems in place for packaging

  • Perceived lack of things to do on an extended stay

  • Insufficient focus on land-use planning

  • Lack of succession planning – number of small-sized operators likely to retire in coming decade

  • Insufficient countryside management skills or relevant training

  • Trail/back country issues arising from lack of ORV legislation, user conflicts, issues with trails development and maintenance

  • Insufficient complementary activities – poorly packaged

  • Lack of storytelling and limited emphasis on theming

  • Lack of compelling economic data on the value of tourism

  • Labour issues – likely to be a growing gap between supply and demand


  • Growth in affluent retirees and global middle class

  • Growing interest in health and sustainability

  • Increasing demand for experiential product and learning experiences that allow the visitor to connect with the destination

  • Increasing demand for ecotourism from European markets – growth potential for the North Thompson

  • Potential new BC markets to tap into – ESL and education associated sectors, new resident ethnic populations (including VFR - visiting friends and relatives)

  • Rail access – VIA Rail

  • Augmenting regional air access to domestic and international destinations utilizing existing and expanding airport infrastructure

  • Storytelling

  • Opportunities to develop new learning experiences and to build on existing product – can focus on personal development and self-discovery

  • Opportunity to highlight examples of good practice – e.g. current approach to developing and managing trails in the Shuswap

  • Scope to expand and further coordinate existing festivals

  • Opportunity to further develop niche product (e.g. hang gliding), outdoor sport tourism, long distance trails and hut-to-hut experiences

  • Opportunity to expand regional land-use planning model


  • Fears of ongoing economic recession

  • Strength of the Canadian dollar

  • Increased household debt – greater degree of price sensitivity

  • Rising fuel prices and travel costs

  • Increased competition from overseas and domestic destinations – increased outbound travel

  • Tighter visa regulations and border controls

  • Increased environmental crises – forest fire is a significant regional threat

  • Canada is not highly recognized as a destination for many of the region’s emerging product

  • Urban markets have an increasing disconnect with the outdoors

vision + framework for growth


The Thompson Okanagan will be a highly successful year-round destination, with a strong and attractive image that is clearly differentiated from its competitors. The region will be well known for the authenticity and quality of its tourism offers, and the cultural and environmental richness and diversity of the areas within it. The industry will be recognized for its commitment to work together to strengthen tourism for the benefit of all.

Our Objectives

  1. Maximize the value of tourism to the regional economy

  2. Substantially increase the length of the visitor season

  3. Maximize the spread of benefits of tourism around the region

This strategy is focused on achieving a target of 3% real growth in revenue per year throughout the region and in each Regional District and sub-region.

Our Underlying Principles

This strategy is based on seven underlying principles that will shape how tourism is developed and managed to achieve the region’s vision. These guiding principles are essentially a series of commitments that, if in place, will facilitate progress. They are a commitment to:

  1. Working in Partnership - recognizing that working toward a common direction and purpose will create a high level of synergy and will be key to maximizing return on investment;

  2. Developing Vertical Integration between national, provincial, regional and community objectives to achieve mutual benefit;

  3. Promoting Horizontal Integration between tourism planning and all other forms of strategic planning including land-use, economic development, culture and heritage, transportation and access at the local, sub-regional and regional level;

  4. Recognizing and Respecting the Diverse Cultures of the Thompson Okanagan region and the distinctiveness of community regions;

  5. Developing and Promoting Distinctive Quality Experiences that are of a high appeal to the region’s target markets and have the potential to provide a framework for integrating other supportive experiences and services into the product offering;

  6. Focusing on Sustainability through formalizing principles that will underlie the tourism development and business activities of the region’s stakeholders; and

  7. Adopting a Customer-Centric Perspective that is based on market segmentation, ongoing monitoring of competitor practices, industry performance, and market trends.



With the growing interest in experiential tourism and authenticity, and the increasing demand for quality and a sophisticated product, the Thompson Okanagan region is well positioned to respond to these market shifts in travel values.

Our Consumer Target Market Segments

The segmentation of the marketplace based on the CTC and Environic’s research into the role of social and travel values on trip planning and travel behaviour has identified three consumer segments that align with the region’s current visitor experiences. Adopting a targeted approach of this nature and understanding their values and travel behaviour will sharpen the impact of marketing and the delivery of experiences, while providing a strategic context for product development.

  1. Free Spirits

    • Demographics: 49% 18-34, over half have young children, FT/students, higher than average income, average education

    • Social Values: Extrovert, driven, open-minded, fun-loving, spontaneous, adventurous

    • Travel Values: Luxury, checklist samplers, indulgent, fun/exciting travel with some learning, bragging experiences, escapism, appreciation of nature

    • Travel Activity: Snowmobiling, skiing/snowboarding, shopping – gourmet retail, casinos, sun bathing, water-based activities, hang gliding, kayaking, dining at restaurants offering local ingredients, visiting national/provincial parks, attending festivals. Accommodation – health/resort spa, waterfront resort – preference for status, brands, novelty & creativity

  2. Cultural Explorers

    • Demographics: 47% 35-54, mostly FT, average income, higher than average education

    • Social Values: Highly motivated, risk-takers, spontaneous, creative, socially responsible, easy-going, not highly materialistic

    • Travel Values: Off the beaten track, local connections, unstructured travel, historical travel

    • Travel Activity: Interacting with locals, historic sites, multicultural experiences, national/provincial parks, interpretive centres, natural wonders, hands on learning, small towns, dining at restaurants offering local ingredients, farmers’ markets, local crafts. Prefer modest accommodation – wilderness lodge, farm stays, B&B

  3. Authentic Experiencers

    • Demographics: 51% 55+, higher than average retired, average income, higher than average education

    • Social Values: Eco and well-being conscious, ethical, independent, more reserved, open-minded, care little about brands

    • Travel Values: Cultural immersion, historical travel, away from crowds, unstructured travel

    • Travel Activity: Multi-day touring in a car, dining at restaurants offering local ingredients, educational tours, historic sites, national/provincial parks, natural wonders, interpretive centres, meeting locals, visiting small towns. Prefer modest accommodation – mountain resort, waterfront resort

regional priorities


Identifying the Iconic

  • Experiences that are memorable and worth ‘bragging about’

  • Signature landscapes

  • Builds recognition for the Thompson Okanagan as a distinctive region

Enriching Local Flavours

  • Exceptional ingredients: scenic landscape, weather, unique wineries, award winning wines, breweries & distilleries, organic farming & local produce, chefs committed to developing regional cuisine and ‘field to table.’

  • Captures the essence of the Region - creates intimacy and romance

  • Strengthens associated sectors and spreads economic benefits

Revealing the Story

  • The Region has many untold ‘stories’

  • Leaning and absorbing history and contemporary culture is a key travel motivator

  • Stories create an emotional connection with the destination

  • Themes can ‘move’ visitors around the Region

  • Numerous opportunities to tell stories through signage, technology, events, and publications

Expanding Personal Horizons

  • Learners make up 35% of the global market - they are looking for unique and interactive opportunities to learn while connecting with locals in an authentic manner

  • Developing new learning experiences will strengthen shoulder season business

  • Areas to build on: sports and outdoor recreational activities, the arts, culinary and wine appreciation disciplines, Indigenous cultural learning experiences, self-discovery and wellness, professional development

Building Authenticity

  • Involves helping visitors understand how the Region differs from their own in terms of culture, heritage, history and identity

  • Requires developing a strong ‘sense of place’ through creating opportunities to connect with locals, appropriate land-use planning and beautification, signage and interpretation, good access to off-road experiences, and strengthening festivals and events that reflect the personality of the Region

moving forward


The underlying principles of this strategy will remain critical to its successful implementation and are integral to the process of moving forward.

This process involves two key elements:

  1. Strengthening the region’s identity and approach to planning through the regional experience-based themes; and

  2. Delivering regional supporting programs to facilitate the growth of the industry.

The five regional experience-based themes provide the building blocks for achieving our vision of developing a highly successful year-round destination, with a strong and attractive image that is clearly differentiated from its competitors... (and that is) well known for the authenticity and quality of its tourism offers, and the cultural and environmental richness and diversity of the areas within it.

Realizing this vision will require a collaborative approach to development planning and action based on these five themes – in effect the industry will be recognized for its commitment to work together to strengthen tourism for the benefit of all.

Underlying Principles

  1. Working in partnership

  2. Developing vertical integration

  3. Promoting horizontal integration

  4. Recognizing and respecting the diverse cultures

  5. Developing and promoting distinctive experiences

  6. Focusing on sustainability

  7. Adopting a customer-centric perspective


  1. Developing regional thematic marketing and development plans

  2. Planning strategically for unique growth opportunities

  3. Identifying and supporting flagship projects

  4. Promoting an integrated approach to local and sub-regional tourism development plans

  5. Providing support and mechanisms for integrated planning

  6. Aligning regional marketing and industry development efforts with the thematic plans and unique growth opportunities

  7. Creating effective technology solutions

  8. Improving the availability of relevant regional industry intelligence

  9. Encouraging sustainable business practices and growth

  10. Supporting labour force development

  11. Regional Infrastructure

  12. Advocacy


This overview is a high-level snapshot of Embracing Our Potential. If you’d like to request the full strategy, fill out our form and someone will be in touch with you shortly.

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“There is a significant underlying concern with the seasonality of the industry, with parts of the region experiencing dramatic peaks in the summer months. Imagine creating an environment that inspires travellers to visit the region every month of the year. The increased economic impact would be dramatic.”